Who’d Have Thought that Microsoft Would Come Up with a Good Desktop Computer Design?

Microsoft yesterday introduced their new desktop computer, the Surface Studio. With a 28″ display that has only slim bezels, the device looks very nice. Unlike the iMac, which has very wide bezels (about one inch on the top and sides, and about three and a half inches on the bottom), the Surface Studio display seems to float in the air. Some of my colleagues have said that the two arms holding up the display are “ugly,” but they don’t bother me. Another friend said the base – which houses much of the computer’s innards – is ugly, but that doesn’t bother me either. It both holds the guts of the computer, and stabilizes it.

Surface studio

It’s interesting to see that Microsoft is not only coming out with an innovative design for a desktop computer, but that they’re targeting creative pros, which Apple has all but ignored in recent years. (To be fair, Apple is announcing new Macs later today, and one can hope for some changes to high-end Macs, but I honestly don’t expect much other than updated laptops.)

If you look at the current iMac, you’ll notice that the design has hardly changed in twelve years. The first iMac in this form factor was the iMac G5, released in August 2004. I had one of those for a couple of years, and I liked it a lot. It was innovative for it time, much better than the previous iMac with the hemispherical base. While Apple has improved the guts of the iMac, and notably its display, that form factor – a display mounted on a curved aluminum stand – hasn’t changed. There aren’t a lot of ways to change this, but reducing the overall size of the computer by shrinking the bezels would be a good start; I find my 27″ iMac to be quite imposing, and shaving off a few inches in width and height would make it less so. (I’ve even been considering switching to a 20″ iMac for this reason.)

The real innovation in the Surface Studio is its ability to fold down to a 20 degree angle. I don’t do any graphics work, but I can see how that would be interesting to designers and other graphics professionals. Frankly, I would like to have that to edit text; I like to change positions in my work, and not be locked into sitting the same way all the time. Having a display that folds down would allow me to look at some of my work differently. Also, the 3:2 aspect ratio is interesting; it’s not that different from Apple’s 16:10 aspect ratio, but I don’t need the width; I don’t watch movies on my iMac. Most of my work is with text, hence I would benefit from more height and less width.

The problem with the Surface Studio is, of course, its price. At $3,000, it’s a pretty expensive animal. And it’s not that it’s especially fast, or comes with the best innards. It’s not available with an SSD, and the base model only includes 8 GB RAM. The top-of-the-line model with a 2 TB hybrid drive, the faster processor and GPU, and 32 GB RAM costs a whopping $4,199. (Susie Ochs over at Macworld has a good comparison of the specs of this new Microsoft computer and the current iMac.)

It’s not for me – after all, it runs Windows – but I’m impressed by the design and new functionality. I hope this is enough to awaken Apple, who has been selling the same type of iMac for a dozen years. Making it a bit thinner doesn’t change the overall form factor, and it is perhaps time for Apple to take the lead in new design again.

It’s interesting that it’s Microsoft of all companies that comes out with a computer that looks more modern than a Mac.